Executions have been a part of Australian history since the beginning.

The indigenous people had death sentences that were carried out under Aboriginal customary law.

The first executions carried out under European law in Australia took place in Western Australia in 1629, when Dutch authorities hanged the mutineers of the Batavia.

The first execution after European settlement came just weeks after the arrival of the First Fleet when Thomas Barrett was hanged from a tree on February 27, 1788 for plotting to rob the Government stores.  He was buried near the Gallows tree.

Executions began to be abolished in the states and territories starting with Queensland in 1922 and Western Australia the last in 1984.

The last person to be sentenced to death was Brenda Hodge in Western Australia in 1984 for murder but it was commuted to life imprisonment.

Victoria has the dubious honour of having the final woman and final man executed in Australia with Jean Lee on 19th February 1951 and Ronald Ryan on 3rd February 1967.

In 2010, Federal Parliament passed laws that prevent the death penalty from being reintroduced by any state or territory in Australia.


ON THIS DAY – March 21, 1884


The trial of James Hawthorne, for the murder of his brother William Hawthorne, near Brighton, on March 21, was concluded in the Central Criminal Court, before the Chief Justice to day. His Honor, in charging the jury, said that at the outset he would tell them to dismiss from their minds the words which the deceased man was alleged to have uttered when he was shot. He would also tell them that even if the deceased man died from the effects of the treatment which he was subjected to after the wound was received, it would not affect the responsibility of the man who caused the wound. The evidence showed that a little animosity had existed between the brothers, and it was a true, but sad fact, that when brothers fell out they become very bitter enemies. Whoever murdered, William Hawthorne did not intend to rob him. The crime must have been committed by some one who had a grudge against him. It was also committed by someone who was well acquainted with the premises of the deceased. The man who fired the shot ran, away, exclaiming ” Ah, you b-, you have got it now.” Did not that show that the murderer had done what he had done to gratify some vindictive feeling. The jury retired to consider their verdict at a quarter past 10. At 20 minutes to 12 the jury returned into court. In answer to the associate’s question, the foreman said Guilty, with a recommendation to mercy.” His Honor : “On what ground ?” The foreman “The excited state of his mind.” His Honor: “Your recommendation will be considered by the Governor but it does not rest with me to consider it. The prisoner, when asked whether, he had anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed on him, said, in a somewhat disjointed manner, that he was innocent of the charge of which he had been found guilty and he was not frightened at that moment to meet his Maker. Sentence of death was pronounced, and the prisoner was removed.

ON THIS DAY …… 18th March 1943

Norman Morris Searle aged 25, of Burnley, was found guilty in the Criminal Court of the murder of Senior Constable Frederick Jones on this day in 1943. The jury made a strong recommendation for mercy. The Chief Justice, Sir Frederick Mann, pronounced the death sentence, and told the jury that the rider would be sent to the Executive Council. The Crown alleged that Searle shot Jones in mistake for another constable, against whom he had a grudge for two years. The shot was fired from a rifle in taxi in which Searle was a passenger. In an unsworn statement from the dock. Searle said he had no intention of killing Jones or anyone else. He was sorry that Jones was dead. Two years ago he took to drink, and had been twice convicted for drunkenness. On the night of the 18th of March he was very drunk. He had a hazy recollection of collecting a rifle from a friend’s place and driving off in a taxi. He fired a shot out of the taxi, but with no idea of killing the policeman. His intention was merely to frighten him.



ON THIS DAY – February 1, 1925


William Patrick Marshall, a contractor, of Cowwarr, Victoria, aged 26 years, was found guilty in the Criminal Court, of having, at Cowwarr, on February 1, caused strychnine to be administered to his wife, Agnes Marshall, with intent to murder her. He was also found guilty of having caused strychnine to be administered to his wife at Heyfield on February 6. There were two alternative charges of having caused strychnine to be administered to his wife, thereby endangering her life. Sentence of death was recorded against the accused.

Mr James McArthur, after the jury had returned a verdict of guilty on the first count and the first two charges acted under section 504 of the Crimes Act and instead of pronouncing sentence of death, ordered to be entered on the record. The case will now be considered by the Executive Council.


ON THIS DAY – January 5, 1902

At 11pm on the evening of 5th of January, 1902, Albert McNamara left his home and shop to deliver a letter. By the time he returned at 11.45pm, his home was on fire and his 4 1⁄2 year old son would be burnt and pronounced dead. Catherine McNamara and their 6 year old daughter, Gladys, would escape the flames. The family had arrived in Australia in November 1901 from London. McNamara opened his ham, beef and light refreshments shop on Christmas Eve 1901 at 161 Nicholson Street. But McNamara was not doing well financially, and he had insured both his own and Catherine’s life for £300. When investigations took place after the fire, it was found that all manner of clothing and materials had been soaked in kerosene and placed in the rafters above the shop and residence. It was believed that McNamara had set these alight when he left to post the letter so he could claim the money for insurance for his wife’s death. It was not the first time that Albert McNamara had been involved with fire. A house he owned in Johanesberg had been burned when a lamp was smashed for which he collected £250 from the insurance money. McNamara was charged with arson causing loss of life and sent to trial at the Criminal Court. The jury couldn’t reach an agreement and so McNamara went to a second trial where he was convicted and sentenced to death. McNamara attempted to commit suicide in the hours before his execution, by running head first into the iron bars. He was unsuccessful and went to the gallows on the 14th April, 1902 at the Melbourne Gaol. Because of the head injury, however, blood spurted from the wound as McNamara fell to his death, creating a gory spectacle for those present. His executioner was Robert Gibbon.



SUPREME COURT-CRIMINAL SIDE. SATURDAY. MAY 15. (Before the Resident Judge and a Civil Jury.)

Portland Bay 1841

Portland Bay 1841

Thomas Leahy, cooper, at Portland Town, was then put to the bar, charged with the wilful murder of his wife Sarah Leahy, by having on the 16th of November last wounded her with a bayonet, thereby causing almost instant death.

John Horne, a native of China, sworn after the manner of his own nation, by breaking a plate, stated that he lives at Portland Bay—knows Thomas Leahy the prisoner, and knew his wife—Sarah Leahy is dead now, she was alive eight moons ago—saw no dispute between prisoner and his wife at that time—has seen them “making quarrels”—remembers working on the day of the murder outside the house—heard a noise and ran in—saw prisoner with a bayonet —would know it again—the one produced was the same, or exactly like it —prisoner had it in his hand—saw him stab his wife (describing the manner of the thrust)—she ran out of the back door with her hand up to her breast, and fell outside the house.

Lovel Byus, sworn: lives at Portland Bay, is a surgeon—has seen the prisoner at Portland Bay between six and seven months ago—can’t say if he was married —remembers on the 16th November last being called in to see deceased— in passing Horne’s house heard a scream —did not go in, but was overtaken by a man of the name of Brown—from his information went to the Chinaman’s hut, and there saw a woman lying on the road, and the prisoner standing near her—he said that he would go and deliver himself up, which he did—saw a wound on the deceased’s body on the left side, and examined it—remained with the woman a quarter of an hour— after examining the wound found the woman’s pulse scarcely perceptible— spoke to her, but she was senseless—saw blood upon the bayonet—am certain it was blood—it was a weapon similar to the one produced, and the wound was such as would be produced by such a weapon—the weapon was given to Mr. Blair—had a post mortem examination on the body—found an external triangular wound on the left breast of the deceased, penetrating between the third and fourth ribs to the left ventricle of the heart—it was such a wound as would produce death—I believe that it caused death.

His Honor summed up as briefly as possible; the Jury retired, and after a few minutes returned a verdict of Guilty. The prisoner was then sentenced to be executed,—time and place left to His Excellency the Governor.